Coach Passenger Kicked Off American Airlines For Using First Class Overhead Bin

An American Airlines passenger shared that they were kicked off of a flight on Thursday after putting their carry on bag in a first class overhead bin while flying economy.

He tells me that when he boarded full class was nearly full, with only one seat still open. Everyone else in the cabin had already stored their bags. But the flight attendant up front asked him to take his bag back to coach. Instead of simply complying he says that he asked, “why, the bin is empty? The [one] person left to board can’t possibly be bringing 5 bags to fill this bin.”

The flight attendant’s response was to ask, “are you refusing to be compliant?” And at that he grabbed his bag and went to his seat in the back of the aircraft while saying “that is idiotic.” It’s the back talk that does it every time.

The passenger shares that he chatted with crewmember in the back of the aircraft and asked where he’d find the rules limiting overhead bin space to American’s passengers? That flight attendant went to her on board phone….

One minute later a third flight attendant comes back and says the captain wants to know if I am planning on being compliant for the rest if the flight?

I said my bag is back here what do you mean?

I said does the captain have a copy of the passenger rules I need to abide by.

Three minutes later, he reports, that two employees board the aircraft and escort him off. American booked him on the next flight, and he sat in the airport for four hours waiting for it.

Now, coach passengers store their bags in first class all the time, even though American generally has signage on bins indicated that they are for first class, for Main Cabin Extra, and for economy section passengers.

There’s no rule in the airline’s contract of carriage, or published elsewhere (other than on the inside of bins themselves) stating that a passenger may only use the bins whose labels correspond to the seat assignments on their boarding passes.

As a matter of etiquette, first class passengers should have priority for bins in their cabin, and all things equal a passenger should have priority for the space above their seat. But when space runs out, all bets are usually off.

In this case there was space in the back for the passenger near his seat in coach. He didn’t need the first class space, and neither did first class passengers. It’s common for coach passengers to stick bags up as soon as they find space, when boarding late in the process, “just in case.”

However passengers need to follow crewmember instructions, but that is actually limited! For instance 14 C.F.R. 121.317(k) states passengers must comply with instructions regarding seat belts and smoking. You aren’t required to share your lunch with crewmembers, for instance, if told to do so. You aren’t obligated to turn over your jewelry.

But 49 USC § 44902 provides broad latitude, within certain bounds laid out by the FAA, for the captain of an aircraft to refuse transportation to a passenger if they feel that passenger might be “inimical to safety.”

A pilot’s decision cannot be arbitrary or capricious – but that’s not the same as saying it has to be reasonable! It’s generally presumed that the actions of the pilot are reasonable, and judged based on facts the pilot was aware of at the time and the time constraints they’re under.

  • If they’re given only one side of the story, and it’s incomplete
  • And they make a decision based on that information
  • And they’re in a rush to get the plane out
  • That’s probably going to be fine under the law

So if the captain felt that a passenger could be a safety risk solely because they weren’t listening to a flight attendant, even if it involves an issue where they’re not obligated to follow instructions, they’re probably within their rights to kick you off the plane. It probably wasn’t fair here, though the passenger was unwise to escalate things.

At the same time, cabin crew probably should have handled things better so that it didn’t get to this point. If they want to be the one of the few flight attendants enforcing first class overhead bins for first class passengers only, they might have offered:

Excuse me sir, would you mind taking your bag out of that overhead bin please? We’re restricting the use of that bin right now, and there’s plenty of space towards the back of the aircraft. [And, if possible under the circumstances] I’d be happy to show you.

Should the first class overhead bins be for first class passengers only? And if so, should a passenger get kicked off of the flight when they disagree – even if they move their bag back to coach?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Miss T – I shouldn’t have said “In fact.” The statement is based only on what my HS GED holding brother in law commercial pilot, who drove a bus earlier in his life, told me.

  2. If there was room for the passenger’s bag at the front, nobody was hurt or offended. The stewardess was just power hungry. Nobody was harmed. Just silly.

  3. stupid is as stupid does. By now everybody should know the crew are gods when it comes to your flights. either bow down or suffer the consequences. it is not right but neither are resort fees.

  4. As an FA, when all FC passengers are seated, I consider any open FC bin fair game.
    If I remember correctly, one seat was still open. While I agree that one person doesn’t need a whole space to themselves, he/she was right to ask the man to take his luggage with him.
    As for our bags being ‘non-compliant’, that’s total BS. They are issued by the airline and are absolutely in line with the regulations.
    As for the ridiculous complaint about oxygen bottles and other equipment being in a bin, that is decided by the airline, not us.
    I’m sure you’d appreciate it being where it is if you experience a medical emergency yourself.
    As for the giant raft taking up an entire bin on certain planes, I do wish they’d have been able to store it somewhere else, but here we are.

  5. @ElliottS
    Quote: “However, when the front is boarded (and in this case sounds like a pax in the one empty seat wouldn’t be taking up that much overhead) I think this person should be allowed to place his/her bag in the overhead.”

    If the practice is openly allowed, there will be some passengers who will put their bags in there even when the boarding hasn’t nearly done and some of these passengers WILL return to the area to retrieve their things during the flight which can be an annoyance to the F and B passengers.

  6. I’m with AA on this one (and I’m not an AA fan). Otherwise you end up with standards along the lines of: “Place your luggage in your cabin as near as possible to your seat when you board, unless (a) you see a on space in the first class cabin you would rather have which may lead to later-boarding first class passengers having to swim upstream upon disembarkation in order to retrieve their bags from economy, or (b) you wish to block the aisle and delay other passengers while you interrupt a FA who is trying to get off the ground and negotiate with the FA whether you can use the first class space, or (c) you take the space without asking and then FA later has to be interrupted in order to negotiate with you whether you should further delay boarding while you move your bag to where it belongs or else be kicked off the flight.”

    If you are truly concerned/alarmed about how much discretion FAs currently have, then do you really want a system where proper luggage storage is subject a bag-by-bag negotiation in a process initiated by each boarding passenger? What published standards would you propose—that all FAs must be trained for—that each FA must follow in order to respond to your action/request so that all passengers are treated equally every time? Can you imagine what that will do to boarding times?

  7. The overheads above first class seats should be reserved for first class until/if the cabin crew deem it necessary to stow other cabin baggage there.

  8. Gary, kudos on reading the reg about passengers complying with crewmember instructions. So many crew mischaracterize this reg, and indeed I believe AA (and probably other carriers) provide them with written remarks to read out loud (into PA) that mischaracterize this reg, by removing the limitation as to what subjects passengers must comply with. See also paragraph 31.

  9. FA’s are fed up .4 major airlines have edgy employees waiting on contracts. Fact.
    Not sure it was worth kicking him off, but I can see the boiling points from employees getting worse.
    Passengers can be lazy in the early boarding stages. Not caring about the Passengers boarding after them. Lots of entitlement now. Last passenger? Who cares where the bag goes. Just get the flight out.

  10. While I agree with AA, I suspect the FA communicated this poorly because that’s how it goes on that shitty airline.

  11. People forget that airlines are private companies. You agree to their rules when you buy a ticket, plus it’s a federal requirement to comply with crew instructions.

  12. 1. We are only heading the passenger’s side of the story
    2. Even with only his side, he is clearly in the wrong.
    3. It is reasonable for the captain to worry about this guy disrupting his flight and wanting to play it safe even with what he claims to have said. In reality it was probably worse and a more aggressive tone
    4. Passengers only panic and use the front bins because they are basically threatened at the gate that the will be no space and create the fear
    5. The airline created this issue by aggressively monetizing baggage costs and providing poor baggage servic
    6. Who knows what the FA really said but different words could probably have been used to deescalate.

  13. People who just stuff their belongings into the overhead in first on their way to the back of the plane when boarding isn’t nearly complete are the absolute worst. Pure main character syndrome.

  14. As someone who primarily flies FC but doesn’t want to rush to board first in line, I actually feel more positively about AA because of this. In my opinion, the only time it’s appropriate for your baggage to go in a cabin with a different class of service is if you are directly instructed to do so by a crew member, otherwise your carry on baggage should go wherever you do. Simple as that.

  15. Doesn’t matter what class your seated in, your bag should go above your seat, only time it should be different is when all the bin space is full, but I find that to be almost never, most times even when it appears full, bags can be rearranged to make room. And don’t get upset if you put a birthday cake box in the overhead and my bag smashes it…you dumb ass.

  16. The regs don’t specify where to poop either, but most of us successfully work it out with the signage. If the private company, ie AA, clearly marks luggage bins for passenger types by cabin (legal segregation). that’s what compliant passengers should adhere to. Otherwise, they should enjoy a four hour wait to remind them that their flight privileges are not absolute.

  17. Once again, the new power hungry flight crew going overboard. To all cabin crews … stay in your lane.

  18. The carry on bags is a never ending issue. The airline(s) should state, “All passenger carry on items WILL be placed in the overhead bin above your assigned seat.” PERIOD. It should be printed on the boarding pass, repeated in the pre-board announcement, the boarding announcement and aboard the aircraft during boarding. While this won’t prevent the specific a*****e from ignoring, it will offer credence to the airline enforcing this. Also, when the passenger arrives at the assigned seat and the overhead bin is full, and the adjacent passengers can’t claim the bag is theirs, it’s pulled from the bin and deplaned. Simple.

  19. Not an AA fan at all but for the absurd price for a first class ticket, they should have something to show for it. However if all were boarded and there was space, bend the rules a bit, dont toss him out. He DID comply buy he
    complained on the way back to his seat.
    All these issues with carryons are100 % fault of airlines who are so greedy
    that they charge a lot to check a bag.
    Then when the plane has no more space for carryons they will give you
    a freebie to check it after most of passengers have paid.

  20. Now if we can only keep coach passengers from lining up in first class to use the bathroom in first class

  21. I can relate to aa when I boarded once I paid for main cabin and someone had filled the bin right over my seat so he considerate of others u didn’t pay for first class usually stand by passengers are last to board I think I’ve seen signs on the bins stating bins for passengers in certain seats

  22. Fares up front are 3-4x more than economy. Overhead bins, restrooms should be exclusively for those that paid that additional amount.

  23. I am glad someone finally called out that conduct by passengers. The bins are for FC and are marked such. I have been in first and forced to put my bag in economy and it slows deplaning. Once all of first is present, FAs often add bags to FC if there is room so we can go without checking. But that is the FA managing bags. Otherwise take your stuff with you into your class of service.

    Bathrooms. This is a bit different. Yes you should use toilets in your class of service. But often the trolley blocks that. So they have to come to first. It’s not that big of a deal.

  24. We have heard one version of this story. I believe there is probably another version too

    All these people do is waste time

  25. Putting your carry on at the opposite end of where you are seated is harmless enough however (a) was he just being lazy, (b) just because you can doesn’t mean you should especially since he didn’t know what the regulations were, and (c) saying ‘this is idiotic’ has an implication that the FA was idiotic and also could imply that the passenger could have escalated while in flight over something else.

    I say follow direction and don’t rock the boat. Don’t blame the FAs or Pilot when you as the the passenger was the instigator.

  26. This is one more of many examples of the failure of airline passengers who simply are unable or unwilling to exercise common sense and common courtesy while flying. Whether it is a sense of entitlement, poor manners, or anxiety about air travel in general, these people create easily avoidable ill will, or worse, departure delays, or even police intervention by failing to do the simple task of finding their seat and stowing their belongings in the intended location. It would be one thing if there were no room in the coach cabin overhead bins and the FA directed the passenger to use the space in first class. It is not for the passenger to make this decision. It is also not for the passenger to speculate that it “would be impossible” for yet to board last first class passenger to have enough gear to require all of the remaining space in the first class bins. I tmay be highly unlikely, but he could not know that to be a fact. Furthermore, just as it is common practice to limit the use of first class lavatories to first class passengers, it is also common sense that those who have paid for the added comforts of first class are entitled to be undisturbed by other passengers accessing the bins above their seats mid flight. As strange as it seems, some passengers have been known to make nuisances of themselves by accessing the first class bins repeatedly in a disruptive manner as they vent their resentment over whatever gripes that they may be nursing about society’s inequities. An airplane can be a microcosm of society where people find themselves in different classes. However, the contrast is magnified in the confined space of an airplane, and some people just can’t deal with the fact that some are better situated than they are. Some respond to this by acting out in petty acts of rebellion that can quickly escalate into felonies. They might benefit by investing in some sessions with a good therapist.

  27. First class bins should be reserved for first class passengers. Once all first class passengers have boarded, it should be up to a flight attendant only to allow a bag from someone seated elsewhere to be put in a first class section bin. Time and time again I have seen passengers seated in economy quickly stash their bag in the first class bins as they board. That should not be allowed. I have rarely seen a flight attendant monitor this or say anything.

  28. I am Exec Plat on AA, in Group 1, fly Main Cabin Extra and I’m one of those Gate Lice who are always in line early to be first to board to ensure having room for my legally-sized carry-on in the overhead above my seat. I take note of anyone who puts luggage above the MCE seats and then goes on further to the back of the plane so that if there is a problem I am able to tell the flight attendant whose luggage was shoved into the MCE rows.
    That may sound petty but it is just not right for people who are further back to take up forward space and cause deplaning delays when MCE passengers have to fight the tide to go to the back to retrieve their bags.
    Regarding use of FC restrooms there is inconsistency among FAs which may contribute to Y passengers using FC restrooms. On some flights FAs say use the closest restroom regardless of class; other flights they say stay in your assigned cabin. There should be a consistent policy of using assigned cabin restrooms.

  29. First class bins should be reserved for the F passengers and all of the FAs who stow their 4 bags each in them.

    While we are hearing only his side of the story, it sounds exactly in line with what I would expect on AA when co fronted with one of their surly FAs. It is stupid that a pax gets kicked off for this because “he might not follow crew member instructions” but then just gets rebooked on the next flight out. Even he’s a safety risk if he’s not. FAs should be called to defense for these silly actions they take.

  30. I wonder which overhead bin the passenger decided to go with after four hours of thinking about it before he boarded again.

  31. The FA is in the wrong. If boarding is nearing the end passengers should secure their bags in any open overhead bin and be seated for on time departure. Sometimes when I’m in first class and there’s a ton of overhead space I’ll suggest to someone boarding late to use a first class bin. We want to arrive on time. Not 12 minutes behind schedule.

  32. It’s depends on the phase of thr boarding process. Pre boarding and groups 1 to 5 should not use the first class overhead bins. If it is final boarding with group 9 , standby passengers , or late arriving passengers then you have flexibility to use the first class bins.

  33. Let’s just stop with the overhead bins altogether and only allow bags that fit under the seat. That would solve the problem as well as expedite boarding and exiting. Not to mention give more head room to stand up. The amount of time wasted while waiting for everyone to put their crap up is ridiculous. Gate check it or pay. People get around the baggage fees by gate checking all the time. If you can’t afford to check your bag, don’t fly. Just saying.

  34. Gary, you are wrong on this point. I usually board in Group 1 and I have seen, on many occasions, where Group 3/4 passengers will put their bags in Premium Economy zones as they are walking by, even though the plane has not completely boarded and only half the Premium Economy has seated.

    Then, as the plane is landing, there is one person, who will push anyone out of the way to rush to retrieve his/her bag front the front of the plane. On my most recent flights with United, when the flight has been completely full, they have offered to gate check Group 5 passengers carry-on and let them board with Group 4.

    On occasions, when I am flying First class, and I am paying/upgraded, I appreciate the privileges accorded the class and just because you are walking by, it does not entitle to enjoy the amenities. If you are the last to board and there is no space for your carry-on, just ask the FA for help, don’t assume you have the rights to do what you want.

  35. Why is this even an issue? You are instructed to place carry-on bags under the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment above YOUR seat. Follow instructions. Period.

  36. Your bag goes above your seat, period.

    I have on many occasions pulled someone’s bag out of the bin over my row and walk back to them and handed it to them. Put simply, if you stow your bag in a bend close to the front so that you can leave your seat near the back, cruise up the aisle, and grab your bag out of the bin on your way out of the plane, you are a douchebag.

    The passenger in this story is an entitled dick. He should be thrown off the plane while it is in flight.

  37. This also counts as involuntary denial of boarding. The airline actually has no reason to deny this passenger and now owes them money for the delay. I’d report it immediately and demand my money.

  38. All the comments about “power drunk” and “surly” attendants. I fly multiple times a week on American. Only time I have ever seen an attendant is when passengers are deserving. I have witnessed passengers be compete “a-holes” to the flight attendant then play victim when escorted out. Especially innocent when they realize they are being filmed, or that they may end up on a no-fly list. Only exception are the drunk ones. They are defiant all they way out.

    This is how I envision this really went down. Passenger was a group 5 passenger, or maybe a Gold or platinum member that didnt get upgraded, who got stuck in the back of the plane and not pleased with his seat assignment. When advised to take his bagage to the back with him, because there was plenty of room back there, he copped attitude. When he got back there he got surly with the other attendant and wanted what he deemed was justification that he was right. At that point he kept up with his verbal displeasure with the airline. Crew notified Captain that there was a disgruntled passenger who they deemed was going to be a continued problem for the duration of the flight. Just like the captain on a ship, the pilot is soley responsible for the safety and well being of ALL the passengers under their care aboard. Thats why the passenger was kicked off.

    I side with the crew 100%. Anyone who doesnt like it, dont fly.

  39. I only book first/business, and I pay for it (I don’t have any status or do upgrades). But, in recent years, instead of getting to enjoy a more leisurely boarding experience, I have to rush for a space at the front of the boarding queue to make sure I actually have space in the bin for my carry on bag. This could be on AA, United, or Delta. Too many economy pax think the open bins at the front are fair game for them, leaving me to have to walk far back to put my bag, then when time to deplane, I have to wait until nearly everyone else is off the plane for me to be able to retrieve my bag. And I paid thousand of $$ for that “privilege”? So, I have absolutely no sympathy for the dullard who gets kicked off for trying to use the first class bins. If you want a first class bin, book and pay for first class!

  40. I don’t know why, but I sense there is more to this story than we’re hearing.
    I have always stuck up for AA but I have to say they are using up my good will at a hectic pace. However, this story could just have easily been written for UA or DL as AA. On any day the chance of this happening is ripe.
    That said, I pay to fly up front, and folks from the back stuffing their bags in the FC area is an irritation at best. Getting kicked off for trying it on? Not so sure about that. See first sentence.

  41. The passenger was wrong and, though he complied after being confronted, he should have kept his mouth shut. Overhead space should be reserved for the people paying (a lot ) to sit in those seats (or people who fly so much that they get the status and free upgrades). Passengers should proceed to their seats and try to find overhead space in the vicinity. If there is none, let the FA know and s/he can decide to stow the bag up front. That said, the airline overreacted and wasted everyone’s time with the ejection, rather than just leaving it alone since the passenger had complied. The goal is to get bags stowed safely and properly and get the aircraft off the ground, not to teach people lessons.

  42. GOOD! Thank you AA, let’s start holding people accountable for not following rule (listening Trump?).

  43. ” It’s common for coach passengers to stick bags up as soon as they find space, when boarding late in the process, “just in case.” ”

    Common for entitled coach passengers, perhaps? I’ve flown often — not as much as someone who flies every single week, but often enough to have spent plenty of miles and hotel points in my life. I’ve never once tried to put something into a first class overhead when flying coach and I haven’t seen anyone I travel with do it, either.

    Unless you’re so late in the process you can clearly see people struggling to find space in overhead bins, you take your bag to your seat before looking, because that’s where it’s handiest, least likely to be tampered with, easiest to grab when getting out (no forgetting where it is), etc. If you start leaving it other places, you forget which spot you used this particular flight…

  44. I do feel terribly sorry for the unfortunate few AA F/A who actually love their jobs and bring great service and hospitality to the cabin everyday and get lumped in with these F/A who constantly have to make a big deal out of nothing, and turn it into a power trip about themselves

  45. If the Captain did not come out of the cockpit and actually speak with the pax, then it could be deems his actions to remove the pax failed to meet the standards of 49 USC § 44902.

    Most of us know, that typically when there are issues such as this, the pilot will come have a conversation with the pax, and then judged for himself.

    Just my view from the Cheap Seats……….

  46. I’ve been flying 52 years. Overhead bins are shared space. Yes, F/C & B/C should use those buns accordingly but if there is an empty bin no matter where passengers are allowed to use them. Sounds like someone was looking for trouble that day. The man shouldn’t have been talked to like that or removed.

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